KINGSPORT — With 2,085 all-time victories, Dobyns-Bennett has the winningest high school basketball program in the nation. The Indians also have won more state tournament games than any other school in Tennessee.
It’s only fitting that D-B (22-11) will be going back to Murfreesboro next week for the Class AAA state meet. However, few observers had this edition of the Indians figured for a TSSAA contender.
The Indians surprised Knox West 75-70 on Monday night in the sectional with a stout-hearted performance that set the Buck Van Huss Dome abuzz.
It was like old times for the D-B faithful. When the final second ticked away, pandemonium broke out. Fans stormed the court to celebrate with the team. The nets were removed by players.
It was a well-rounded performance by Charlie Morgan’s Tribe.
Juwan Johnson was 5-of-7 from 3-point range, leading D-B with 19 points. Adam Denison, the Big 8 Conference player of the year, scored 16 points and collected six of his team’s 19 rebounds. Darius Davis, a 5-foot-8 point guard who was overlooked by coaches on the All-Big 8 team, scored 12 points. He had two even bigger contributions — 10 assists and no turnovers. Tyler Ailshie, the Region 1 tourney’s MVP, also hit 12 points.
After Johnson was jackknifed while driving for a layup and taken out of the game, Ben Riggs became the designated free throw shooter and hit a biggie to give the home team a 73-69 edge with 30 seconds left to play.
Derrick Steele’s two free throws with 16 seconds remaining sealed the win after West had pulled within three just seconds earlier.
West’s players were taller and more athletic but heart size became a factor.
“This a great group of guys who played with a lot of heart,’’ Morgan said. “They laid it out on the floor tonight. It’s amazing what a team can accomplish when nobody cares who scores.
“They shared the ball and played a wonderful game. Down the stretch, there’s not that much coaching — it’s guys making plays.’’
Morgan coached two state championship teams in Virginia. He said winning as an underdog in a situation like this was gratifying. “This is so much sweeter because nobody expected it. We had no dunkers or great 3-point shooters. I believed in them and they worked hard to improve. You play like you practice.’’
After 69 practices before and during the season, D-B was well versed on handling full-court pressure. West committed 15 turnovers, D-B only 10.
West (20-12) outrebounded the Tribe 37-19 but met its match in the transition game.
“We knew we had to take care of the ball,’’ Davis said. “We scored once we got around West’s press. They had a lot of size on us but we didn’t back down.’’
Denison, who started slowly but eventually got cranked up, said: “We came in knowing we could beat this team. Everybody made shots. We didn’t rebound very well but we kept our defense up in the second half and pulled it out. At the start of the year, nobody would have even thought we’d be here.’’
Free throw shooting obviously decided it. D-B sank 28 of 33 shots while West went 9-of-19.
Ailshie, who missed just two shots, said D-B’s team chemistry was outstanding. “We stuck to our game plan. One of the factors was our crowd. They were here for us. This is a dream come true.’’
Johnson said the Indians simply weren’t going to be denied. “We had the will to win. To be going to state for the first time is amazing.’’
It was all-out war underneath the rims.
“It got physical under there,’’ the 6-foot-4 Riggs said. “We had to box out and they were still climbing over our backs, but that’s just part of the game. We took care of the ball and hit our free throws. Going to state is unbelievable because we started the season rough.’’
D-B will join Bearden, Columbia Central, Siegel, Clarksville Northeast, Beech, White Station and Melrose at Murfreesboro. The tourney drawing will be conducted next weekend.
West’s scoring leaders were Phillip Stanford and Carson Brooks with 16 points each.
Field goal shooting was even — 47 percent.